NEW YORK >> With the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still requiring most people across the country to continue to shelter in place, frustrations and tension among family members may be on the rise. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering tips to strengthen family relationships among those who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
“As our ongoing need to isolate continues, it may be harder for caregivers to be able to take a break, which can create tension, anxiety, stress and resentment,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “The impact of Alzheimer’s on memory also makes it harder for the person living with the disease to understand what’s happening, which adds to caregiver challenges. Taking steps to deal with all of these feelings head-on and strengthen the bonds between family members is important for everyone.”
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering the following tips to help reduce tensions and strengthen bonds during this time.
• Know what works best. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease responds favorably to certain activities or approaches, be sure to maximize those, as it will help with stress levels and mood (both yours and theirs). A caregiver should also communicate what works with other family members. For example, if having someone call to check in every day is helpful in reducing stress, make sure to express that.
• Identify and understand the triggers. Knowing what actions generate stress and frustration, both for the person with Alzheimer’s disease and yourself, as the caregiver, is important. Recognizing those triggers early, and reacting to them quickly and constructively, reduces the likelihood of a “blowup.” Pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as a flushed face, sweaty palms or increased heart rate, as warning signs. Caregivers should also share these negative triggers with others who you or your loved one interact with. Be direct about their needs and your own. For example, say, “It really upsets me when you go days without checking in to see how things are going.”
• Keep a journal. This will enable you to track your loved one’s behavior and triggers, both positive and negative ones, as well as keep tabs on your own. Journaling can be an effective therapeutic tool to release emotions, gain self-knowledge, increase ability to problem-solve, and heal relationships.
• Try to maintain a daily structure. Routines can help reduce stress and anxiety. If your loved one gets up, eats or goes to sleep at certain times, adhere to that schedule as best as possible. If you normally exercise every morning before work, continue doing so, even if you’re not leaving the house.
• Find coping mechanisms. Meditation, counting to twenty or taking a few deep breaths are all quick and easy ways to calm yourself down and de-stress in the moment. “Venting” or talking things through with trusted loved ones or friends can be helpful. Also available seven days a week is AFA’s Helpline (866-232-8484), staffed by licensed social workers. You can also access the Helpline via our website online chat, now providing care more than 90 languages, at www.alzfdn.org (look for the light blue and white icon on the bottom right-hand corner).
• Have “family care meetings.” In the case of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, the relative who lives with or nearest to them often provides the majority of the care. This can lead to feelings of resentment. It’s important to regularly bring family members together for a “care meeting” to discuss the situation and divide responsibilities, which may include financial and legal duties in addition to personal care. Collaboration, compromise and structure are key to effective family care meetings. These meetings can be held over the phone, and virtually through Facetime, Skype, etc. AFA’s Helpline can also provide additional tips about how to organize one.
AFA’s Helpline, staffed entirely by licensed social workers trained in dementia care, is open seven days a week to help provide additional tips about adapting routines, caregiving during the coronavirus outbreak and more. The Helpline can be reached by calling 866-232-8484 or visiting www.alzfdn.org and clicking the blue and white chat icon in the right hand corner of the page.